Academic freedom: PHEC to debate order on research topics

Chairman says such interference can affect universities’ autonomy.


Aroosa Shaukat May 08, 2015
The HED had sent the circular on March 27 to all public and private sector universities in the province. STOCK IMAGE

LAHORE: The Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) is set to discuss a circular issued by the Higher Education Department (HED) to universities about “anti-culture and anti-Pakistan” research.

The HED had sent the circular on March 27 to all public and private sector universities in the province, stating that “various security agencies” had pointed out that research topics given to some students were “anti-Pakistan” and “anti-cultural” in nature.



It read: “The competent authority has taken a serious notice of the situation and desires that the academia should play a constructive role in nurturing nationalism amongst the youth of this country.”

“It has further been desired that the concerned quarters may be sensitised to avoid inculcation of anti-cultural and anti-Pakistan sentiments amongst the students by giving such topics for debate and research.”

Talking to The Express Tribune, PHEC chairman Dr Muhammad Nizamuddin said that there was no need for the notification. “The commission is aiming to bring the issue on their agenda in their upcoming meeting,” he said.

“This should not have been done in such a manner. Issues such as mentioned in the HED’s circular are not circulated through public notifications. They are referred to the higher education commission (HEC). Policy decisions are taken by the higher education commissions, in this case the PHEC. Such interference will affect the autonomous and independent nature of universities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Punjab University (PU) has sent a report to the HED, informing it that no such research has been undertaken by its students.

The report is based on topics of MPhil and PhD theses from 1995 to 2015.

Talking to The Express Tribune, PU additional registrar Dr Kamran Abid said that the report aimed to place on record the position of the university on the subject. “We are very clear about the issue. Our research topics are carefully examined and are vetted on several forums,” he said.



He said that besides preliminary assessment by a student’s supervisor, the research proposals underwent a three-tier process. “At the departmental level, a doctorate programme committee vets the topic.

The topic then goes to a doctoral programme coordination committee.

Following this, the case is brought up before the Advanced Studies and Research Board. It comprises deans, syndicate members and is chaired by the VC,” Abid said.

“The students then have to defend their synopses before a larger committee. We have people from various academic backgrounds in these committees,” he said “We have never come across a topic that would cause needless alarm,” he said.

HED secretary Iram Bukhari expressed ignorance about the matter, citing her recent appointment as the reason. Bukhari said she had yet to be briefed about the circular.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2015. 

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